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Alternative Culture Articles

March 3, 2003

Unfriendly Skies
By Royce Carlson

Art dealer Doug Stuber was pulled out of a boarding line at Raleigh-Durham airport and told that he was not allowed to fly overseas. Stuber ran Ralph Naderís North Carolina presidential campaign in 2000 and was informed that the reason he was not allowed to fly is because he is a Green Party member. Stuber concluded that the U.S. Justice Department must now consider Greens as terrorists even though the partyís values include such principles as nonviolence and social justice.

Virgine Lawinger, a nun, was prevented from boarding a flight to Washington last spring along with 20 students. She is an activist with Peace Action and her group was flying to Washington to lobby against military aid to the Colombian government. "Some of us were taken to another room and questioned by airport security personnel and local sheriff's deputies," says Lawinger.

Barbara Olshansky was ordered by airport security personnel to pull her pants down in full view of other passengers at Newark International Airport in March, 2002. The next time she flew, she was also pulled out of line. She was also subjected to extra scrutiny the next two times she tried to fly. Olshansky is the assistant legal director for the left-leaning Center for Constitutional Rights.

Rebecca Gordon and Jan Adams missed their flight out of San Francisco last August because they were pulled out of line and questioned by the San Francisco police. They are both Bay Area peace and justice activists.

Since 9-11, airport security has been tightened causing delays in boarding for many people and worse problems for certain people. Apparently lists are compiled by various government agencies containing the names of people who are considered a security risk. According to a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, there is a list of about 1,000 people who are considered threats to aviation and are not allowed to fly for any reason. There may be another list for activists.

The TSA has no guidelines to determine who gets put on the list and there are no procedures to get oneís name removed from the list if it gets on the list by mistake according to Transportation Security Administration spokesman David Steigman.

Now a new system that conducts background checks on all airline passengers is about to be put in place. "CAPPS II is based on the same concept as the Pentagon's 'Total Information Awareness' program, which proposed massive fishing expeditions through some of our most personally sensitive data," says Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Program.

This system will include a color-coded status assigned to each passenger. Passengers will be tagged as green, yellow, or red depending on the governmentís assessment of security risk with red being assigned to suspected terrorists and green to those deemed not to be a risk. Passengers given a yellow rating would be subjected to intensive security screening. It is unclear who would get a yellow rating. "This system threatens to create a permanent blacklisted underclass of Americans who cannot travel freely," said Katie Corrigan, an ACLU Legislative Counsel.

Andrew Wang was chosen for an extensive search at Newark International Airport and was wanded three times and had his carry on luggage meticulously searched. The procedure took half an hour. Wang took some time later to watch people going through the airport security checkpoint and noticed that, of 73 passengers that passed through, 38 of them were subjected to closer scrutiny. Of the 8 people who looked Middle Eastern, all 8 of them were pulled aside. 8 out of 11 people who looked East Asian were stopped. 6 out of 7 who looked Indian, and 3 out of 5 who were Hispanic were also checked. Of the 35 white passengers who passed the checkpoint, only 3 were taken aside.

It is obvious that airport security personnel are choosing who gets extra scrutiny based on the color of the passengerís skin or the shape of their eyes. During the incident where the nun and her 20 students were stopped from flying, a deputy said that they were looking for Hispanic names, according to Kate, one of the students.

Apparently, if you arenít white, you can expect to be harassed at U.S. airports. Even if you are white and you are a member of the Green Party, or are known to belong to a group that disagrees with the government, you are likely to be subjected to extra searches and questioning and might not be allowed to fly.

This reminds me of the stories I heard about Soviet Russia back during the Cold War. The Russian people were not free to travel and were subject to all kinds of harassment. Now itís happening here in the United States of America. Every week our country is becoming more of a police state. Every day we are becoming less free.

Sources and Resources

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is working in this area. If you are subjected to unreasonable questioning and searches at an airport, or if you are not allowed to fly, the ACLU has put a "no-fly list" complaint form on its web site at

Rower With Muslim Name Is an All-American Suspect - New York Times

CAPPS II Data-Mining System Will Invade Privacy and Create Government Blacklist of Americans, ACLU Warns - ACLU

Airport security a hub of inequality - By Andrew Wang

More Anti-War Activists Snagged by "No Fly" List by Matthew Rothschild - Common Dreams article.

Protesters Detained in Milwaukee: Are You on the No Fly List? - The Progressive

Grounded: The Government's Air Passenger Blacklist -

Green Party "Terrorists" - By Frederick Sweet -


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Royce Carlson